Find a Hero

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Seneca once said “the soul should have someone it can respect, by whose example it can make it’s inner sanctum more inviolable.” In effect someone that through example, words, deeds or philosophy reminds you to hold yourself to a higher standard.

This can be someone whether a friend, a hero, a religious figure, a mentor, colleague, a parent, family member or even someone fictional. When you find yourself with difficult decisions or are stuck on the path to go down – what would this person say or do? When you find yourself making the wrong or bad decisions, what would this person say or do? We have lots of heroes when we’re children but tend to move away from this when we’re older. We don’t look up to others and sometimes we like to see heroes knocked off their pedestals and fall. We use the term “hero” quite loosely today – an athlete scores a goal or wins something and they’re automatically assigned as a “hero” – and these people can be – but perhaps we should demand more from our examples and from ourselves. Instead of holding the winner as a hero – what about the athlete that loses but holds their head high, acts with dignity, works hard and comes back, perseveres? What about the person putting their body on the line to win? Giving it their all? Or what about the colleague that takes a stand and tells the truth at their own detriment? Or a religious leader that dedicates their life to their beliefs? Or a friend that has overcome difficulties? What about a person that has gone through hell and keeps on smiling, never complaining, but keeps going on? What about someone that was counted out but listens to themselves? What about the politician that speaks openly and honestly or does the right thing at the risk of their own career? The activist that dedicates their time or their lives to a good cause? A fictional character that embodies what we could be? A parent that works hard and always does their best to support their family? Heroes don’t need to be grand or fancy or the most successful – sometimes our heroes can be the people that remind us that there’s more in us – that we can be good – that we can be honest – that we can fight for our beliefs – that we’re capable of more – that doing the right thing can be the right path – that sometimes true achievement isn’t about trophies or fans but dedication to a craft, art or skill – that honouring our values and being the best version of ourselves is sometimes all it takes – and who knows if we have the right heroes and look up to the right people maybe we can be someone else’s hero or mentor or have others look to us as a good example?

Not Doing is Equally Important as Doing

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The above title sounds contradictory and quite stupid. I thought so too as I typed it actually. But I’ve been thinking about the importance of breaks. Or time away from certain tasks or projects. I don’t mean that the best way to accomplish something is to not look at it and leave it alone. Clearly not. However, in our pursuit of certain outcomes, aims and goals we can sometimes be too narrow and single minded. Focusing on something too much can take away a lot of our other abilities. For example your creativity, your spontaneity, your ability to connect dots. Sometimes persevering with something can be at the detriment of other things. When you were a child and you got stuck on a problem or hit a rut in your homework or got stuck with something – common advice from a parent or teacher may be to leave it and come back to it. You temporarily give up or take a break. When you look at the problem with a fresh pair of eyes you often find it’s easier or you see it in a slightly different way. Maybe thinking about other problems has got the cogs in your head moving again. Or the act of taking a break allows you to come back fresh. Even as adults we often take a quick coffee break and come back to a meeting or discussion. Or we move on and return to a topic that is dragging on later in the agenda. We seem to recognise that sometimes the best way forward is to take a step backwards – or sideways – even temporarily. This may help us in fact take two step forwards or find a more valuable path to go towards instead. This isn’t meant as a “put down tools/don’t try” manifesto, It’s a reminder that sometimes pure persistence can actually be part of the problem. It’s when we remove ourselves from something we’re better able to return to it in a more productive manner. I see a lot of things online and on social media about “grinding” and “don’t give up” and while these are motivating and inspiring it can sometimes send people off in the belief that the only way is through. Rather than around or perhaps assessing whether the thing you’re focusing on is the right thing in the first place.

We all like to be productive and feel like we’ve accomplished a lot. But don’t be afraid to step away – you can always come back.

YOUR Life

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This is YOUR life. It isn’t someone else’s. So with that in mind. Live it the way you see fit. At times I’ve done things to keep other’s happy or followed their advice rather than listening to myself. While it’s important to listen to other’s and take what they have to say into consideration rather than ploughing ahead with a “I know best” mentality – do it too much and you will find you’re unable to make decisions for yourself. Every great thing I’ve ever done has came with a degree of uncertainty, risk, embarrassment and failure. Some of them did end badly. But some of them were the very best things I’ve ever done. Take for example your parents. They usually want “what’s best” for you. But the whole point of parenting and directing your kids is about protecting them until they’re at an age where they can make their own choices (hopefully wisely). Many parents worry about their children and want them to pursue the best careers, live nearby, speak to them regularly and still want a high level of input in their decisions. It’s easy to see why because they spend years or decades doing so. It becomes a habit. But truly successful parenting is being able to let go. The flip side is that transitioning into a fully functioning adult is taking responsibility and accountability for your own actions and decisions. We all need our family, partners, friends or mentors from time to time. This isn’t a “be a lone wolf” mentality I’m preaching here. But to truly own your life you need to be comfortable with yourself, your decisions, your goals, your dreams and your outcomes. When things go wrong don’t point the finger and blame others. Take it on the chin, dust yourself off and go again. If you rely on living the life prescribed to you by others you’ll wake up and find you’re living someone else’s life. Usually this is what makes us miserable when we reflect back and realise we pursued the wrong things or things that weren’t important. Or we live our life in a way that is only there to impress others. We don’t do anything that people think is different or “weird” because we don’t want to embarrass ourselves by standing out for the wrong reasons. We abandon passions and hobbies or fail to begin because of what other people may think. Until you go down your own path it’s hard to own it. If you don’t take ownership, that too can become a negative habit. It’s your life. Live it the way you see fit.

Lists

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Most people miss the point of to-do lists. They fret and worry about ticking everything off and complain about a lack of time if they don’t get it all done. Or they make several lists or change them or lose them. We judge our efficiency on how many things we can tick or cross out.

The whole point of a list isn’t to “do as much as possible” – it’s to take away the mental taxation from having to remember everything. The list isn’t there for you to do everything on it. Although it’s certainly a plus and nice to do so. The list is a prompt that takes away the stress and mental drag that comes from trying to keep everything in your head. If it’s down on the paper or on your computer – it’s there for you to see. You know that even if you do it later it’s still visible. You can forget about it and don’t need to worry about it because it’s there written or typed. You’ll see that it’s still outstanding. Not having a list means you’re always thinking of what you need to do in your head or things to make sure you don’t forget. This takes up time and mental focus that could instead be spent on thinking of steps to take to start working your way through your list. It’s hard enough to do what we need to do without also trying to be the gatekeeper and auditor by not having it visible in front of us. It’s also worth noting that the process of just writing or typing what you need to do or would like to do feels like progress in itself – you’ve taken the first and most vital step.

Don’t feel forced to juggle things or to be “on fire” everyday completing every single thing. Real efficiency comes from knowing what needs to be done right now and differentiating that with things that can wait. It’s hard to make this comparison when you can’t think about them in detail if everything is simply under “to do” in your head. Make your list.

Reflecting on Reflection

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Who are you?

I mean really? Not your name or your profession or your hobbies. But who are you deep down?

No audience watching, no one to impress or to complain to.

Can you have that conversation with yourself honestly – warts and all?

Perhaps it’s a conversation we should have with ourselves more often. We change and evolve over the course of our lifetimes yet we often have a story of who we are that we present to the world and it may be one that’s years old or a mask we wear to fit in with others. If you don’t really know yourself and who you are deep down – what are your values – what do you value – is it any wonder so many of us end up unhappy. What brings out joy in you, what are you looking for in a partner, when do you feel most alive? Are you happy with the way you have acted and things you have or haven’t done in the past? Who are you and who do you want to be?

If you can’t be honest with yourself with some of those questions then how can you ever hope to be honest with anyone else?

Patience: The Lost Virtue

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If there is a key word to describe our current culture, then it would be SPEED

Our lives are governed by speed in everything from our commutes to our internet connections.

Right here. Right now.
Fast wi-fi
Instant streaming
Same day deliveries
“15 Second Abs”
Instant noodles

Quick results = success. The end product less traveled.

Ancient wisdom said – “forget same day delivery!” OR perhaps more likely – maxima enim, patientia virtus  – patience is the greatest virtue.

Patience seems to have been lost culturally somewhere post-dial up connection. I can remember waiting 5 minutes to load a webpage and it was “wow…behold…the power of the internet” You were happy to wait because that was how it went. Now if I see 3G on my phone screen I die a little inside. I can remember someone on a train a couple of years ago screaming because he couldn’t get a good wi-fi connection, while travelling at 100mph and using a mobile phone. We forget how the idea of sitting on the internet with a phone the same size as our hand while on a train with no wires would have sounded like science fiction not all that long ago. Our expectations evolve. Everything has a cool down period. A time when the initial buzz of something wears off. Ever been to the gym a couple of times or started a new diet and looked in the mirror after a few days and thought…”where are my results?…This plan doesn’t work at all.” Patience is a rarity in society now. If modern marketing has added anything catchy you can steal with pride and use in a blog post relating to patience then it’s….

“Good things come to those who wait.”  – Heinz tomato Ketchup marketing slogan

Our global food giant friend had a good point. You have to wait for the best things in life. Relationships, friendships, careers, fitness, wealth, art, skills, knowledge, love – they don’t and can’t come instantly. They take TIME. They take PATIENCE and COMMITMENT. Your friends from school were likely people you spent several days a week with for years. Yet when we’re older we expect people to be our friends after a few days. “I don’t think so and so likes me so much.” Or we use dating apps and expect to hit it off with people instantly. Or wonder why a swipe of a picture and a few messages doesn’t build anything solid. Quick wins and short term results don’t require you to wait, invest time and commit to something regularly.

A long term and patient philosophy forgets about quick wins and short term success. A long term philosophy – seeing the bigger picture – you’ll take the road less travelled and be happy to be patient. Because after all – good things come to those who wait.

“Somewhere, a little Chinese girl is warming up with your max”…

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“Just remember: somewhere, a little Chinese girl is warming up with your max.” – Jim Conroy, Olympic weightlifting coach

The above quote is really about ego. Don’t be one of those guys in the gym. You know who I mean right? The guy who slams down the weights, spends 15 minutes walking around in a vest that surely must have shrank in the wash and won’t stop talking? Gym tourism aside…I like this quote a lot. The point is that no matter how strong you are, there’s probably someone much younger than you using your PB …Just to warm up!! 

Humility prevents us from the blindness that our ego can present. When we think we’ve “arrived” or can no longer improve we hit a wall of our own making. Humility allows you to realise that there are others out there better than you at certain things. That isn’t a negative it’s realistic and also inspiring.

I think this quote works in another way too. It’s not just about being humble. I think this should actually be a motivator. You’re staring at that bar thinking “can’t do it” but someone else is doing it right now!! She can do it. OK, so we’re not all enrolled on Olympic programs with a sporting super power. But there’s not really too much difference biologically between you, me and a guy with a gold medal around his neck. I’m not saying you go and challenge Michael Phelps to a race. Unless you’re part of the Justice League, you’ll likely lose. BUT, what about if you challenge yourself?So, if it’s possible for someone to do something and you’re not really that different, then what’s limiting you?

“Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; and if it is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

We can’t all win gold medals or lift 1000lbs (please don’t!!). BUT, we can push ourselves and our capabilities further than we realise. If you’ve ever ran a road race, the best part isn’t the beginning when you’re fresh. It’s the part at the end when you’re ruined physically but keep going. The miles put in when your body and mind are telling you to stop. There’s a rare satisfaction from that. Discovering you’re not made of glass or that there’s much more in you than you ever realised. It’s in our moments of pushing our limits, working outside our comfort zone that we grow the most. 

But if you don’t try or think you’ve “arrived” – well then…you’ll never know what you’re truly capable of.

Procrastination: Your Worst Enemy

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We all procrastinate. We say “I’ll do it later” or we’ll start a new diet on “Monday”. It’s easy to do this because we’re moving the goal posts. We haven’t failed to do something because we’re going to do it another day. Probably. Maybe? We live in hectic times with lots of responsibilities and plenty of distractions. It’s easy to juggle too much or to feel lethargic at doing something that could be done another time. Procrastination is a delay to something that could be done today. Or right now. It isn’t being lazy per se because you might genuinely be rushed or the task in front of you just simply isn’t important enough. Or you might still actually get round to doing it when you’ve said. But to delay things effectively means the following:

1.) It’s not important to you or not enough for you to dedicate the time to it sooner. In which case is it worth doing anyway? You keep avoiding that book you’ve been meaning to read. Maybe you’re not that interested in reading it. If so why buy it in the first place? If you are interested then why put off something you’ll enjoy?

2.) It is important to you but you’ve failed to properly recognise that or communicate the importance to yourself. Let’s say an exam for a course. It’s important but while it’s not immediate you keep putting it off. Until guess what? A week before you think “oh crap” and spend the next week working long hours and cramming to make up for “lost” time.

It’s a relatively modern issue. At a certain time in human history when we needed to hunt and gather food or farm our own food for example, putting things off would usually result in starvation. It’s hard to procrastinate when your survival is at stake. Over time our basic needs are usually covered to some degree. While there is still a lot of poverty and issues in the western world we don’t face the same challenges for shelter and food presented to our ancestors. A lot of the things we do in our lives aren’t life and death anymore. So we have choices – we can do something now or do it another time. There’s the common site of people late in life trying to get healthy after a heart attack or spending more time with their family once they retire not before. It’s easy to put things off – even the things we know we should do. Because we always have another day or some other time in the future to “get round to it”. What makes us think we have tomorrow? According to 2017 data around 150,000 people die every single day around the world or over 54 million a year. I’m not trying to depress you with this fact but one day you will have your last day of life. You might not even know it. It might be sudden. It might be young or “too soon”. But one day you’ll have your last meal, your last drink, your last walk, your last laugh. Think on that before you put off all those things you wish you hadn’t put off until it was too late. We all only have so much time. Don’t waste it by sitting there thinking “should have”, “could have” – don’t delay. Strike hard.

Boredom: The Other Pandemic.

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With the large amount of time spent at home over the last year or so and various restrictions, many of us have had to spend more time with ourselves in the same four walls. After a while you start to get bored of the same things – same shows, same movies, same music, same games, same routines – heck – you get bored of spending time with yourself. It’s been a tough slog for many of us without the same opportunities to socialise and interact with other people and activities. I’m not for a second downplaying the mental health aspects of not being able to spend time with friends and families. Humans are social creatures by nature. But boredom is a relatively modern disease if you think about it. Boredom doesn’t come from a lack of options, it comes from having too many. Simply put – boredom isn’t an option for those that don’t have so many options. Do you think past generations working long hours on physically demanding jobs for poor pay and with poor safety got home after a 12/14 hour day and said “well I’m bored right now”? People don’t even relax properly these days. Relaxing or “chilling out” usually involves watching TV while scrolling through your phone on different apps at the same time multitasking and getting involved with stressful events and materials like gossip or a negative news story. If anything we’ve never had so many options on the back of media and the internet. I’m young but still old enough to remember magazines and newspapers in waiting areas – now everyone just sits on their phone where they can do anything from watch a video to learn a language. Everything has a half life of sorts where we forget just how great it was when it was first introduced, we adapt to a “new normal” of sorts. Can you remember your first video game console, your first TV or the first time you got satellite TV with hundreds of channels or Netflix? You were probably in awe – wow isn’t this great!? Now we scroll through hundreds of shows and movies and say “nothing on” (I’m horrendously guilty of this). We have so many options at our finger tips to entertain ourselves, keep ourselves healthy, learn, experiment, laugh, enjoy, cry – and if we don’t have something that hooks us or we just can’t be bothered with – we just don’t bother – we just complain. Although kids often complain that they’re bored, when they’re left to their own imagination they often always find something to do (even if sometimes dangerous or silly). They can turn anything into a game or an experience. When we get to a certain age we just seem to want something to prod us emotionally and chemically with the least amount of effort. We want the outcome of feeling entertained without the effort it sometimes takes. Take learning something difficult – guess what – you’re not going to enjoy every second of it, but if you enjoy the process or the bigger picture of “hey if I learn Spanish when I come out of lockdown I’m going to Barcelona and I’m ordering a cerveza” – you’ll stay engaged. You’ll give it your attention. People often do something without even paying attention. They watch a movie but switch off mentally or they go to a restaurant for food but don’t really taste the food, they don’t take in the ambience. They wolf it down after taking a couple of photos for Instagram and leave.

The best way to not be bored is to be fully present with every experience. Watching a movie without a phone and paying attention. Maybe switching the lights off and getting some popcorn and getting in the “movie mode” Another way might be to think about what you’re most passionate about and putting more time in to that whether it’s walking, reading, art, a hobby. Invest more of your time in the things that have the greatest impact – not the wasteful stuff. Another factor is that quiet or being alone can be quite lonely in itself. And it is and can be. But we often neglect the benefits of short term quiet and solitude. Spending time with yourself without distractions can be some of your best thinking and creative time. Time to work on yourself and your goals and dreams or to tune out from all the noise that so many of us have with busy working lives. Undoubtedly when things get back to some kind of normal we’ll all want to rush into the things we’ve missed out on, quite rightly. But before we run headfirst into endless days and evenings with social events and making up for lost time – don’t forget that the options before you are a gift (one that can clearly be taken away quite suddenly as Covid has shown). Use your time wisely when you have all your options back. Don’t “get bored” – enjoy every single freedom and option you have with the time you have. Life isn’t a constant adrenaline fuelled ride where we’re constantly living at high speed but it isn’t one where we sit and complain that we have “nothing to do” when we’re very privileged to have any options in the first place.

The Power of Gratitude

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It’s very easy in our society to think about everything we don’t have. I don’t drive a ferrari. I don’t have a swimming pool. I’m not a millionaire. Heck – I don’t even have a full head of hair – thanks male pattern baldness. If you look on social media or at the advertisements in a magazine, there will usually be things sold to you – from exotic destinations, fast cars, expensive watches, beauty products, celebrity lifestyles, clothes, big TVs – the list is endless. For the most part we acknowledge that we don’t need a Lamborghini and a Rolex to be happy but this endless barrage of “how good some people have it” takes our focus away from what we already have. Whether it’s for our own sense of self-satisfaction or “keeping up with the Joneses” we’re always somehow aware of what others have and what we don’t. It also can lead to a “when I get this then” mentality. When I get the big house then I can be happy. When I become a millionaire then life will be great. When I get that big promotion at work then I’ll be content professionally. We’re convinced our happiness or satisfaction can be based on set criteria or conditions. Always looking off at the distance – setting our own sense of well being on something not yet there.

The problem is that this “someday” “when” thinking doesn’t stop. It’s a treadmill. We keep going on and it’s out of our control when we think like this because guess what – there’s always a new shiny object or something we don’t have. Because no matter how rich or famous you are – you can’t have everything. BUT you can always be content with everything you already have. As Robert Pirsig wrote – “the only zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the zen you bring up there.” Or as I like to think – if you can’t be content and happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy if you have everything. We’re all having a tough time at the moment with this global pandemic, some more so than others with serious health and economic worries. But if we look back on the often violent and unpredictable history of our planet and species -we can see that for the most part, many of us live improved lives over those of past generations. It was only in the last century close to, if not more than 100 million people died in combat or as a result of two global conflicts. Prior to the 20th century we also had many diseases and illnesses that we had no cure or adequate medical response to. Healthcare, travel, entertainment, communications, hygiene – all of these things have improved drastically, even in the last 20 years or so. If you were to transport your great, great grandparents to the modern day and invite them into your home for a cup of coffee and a chat – they’d probably be wowed by everything from TVs, fridges, mobile phones to flushing toilets. We forget that it wasn’t all that long ago we didn’t have many of these things we take for granted. I’m not saying we even have to go that deep and global. Sometimes it’s the very smallest of things we can reflect on how fortunate we are to have – a sunny day, a hug with a pet, the enjoyment of a good book or movie, a tasty meal, a scenic view. There’s so much for us to be thankful for and we don’t realise that because we’re often focused on everything we don’t have. The next time you feel that your life is “really shit” just stop and think objectively. Chances are you’re a really fortunate and lucky person compared to many others in the world right now and certainly over past generations.

Try writing a list of 3 things every morning you’re grateful for and start your morning thinking just how good you have it. It can be big things like your wife/husband/partner/children/life itself or it can be something like “nice cup of tea/coffee this morning” – “enjoyed tv series A” – “a good laugh” etc etc. If you start your day thinking about what you’re grateful for – you’re likely to start to notice other things over the course of the day too. Life isn’t perfect and it isn’t always fair either. But there’s a very good chance you’re missing out on just how great your own is because you weren’t paying attention.

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